October 11, 2017
Bertha Kravicas left Lithuania in 1927 with her family. They were hoping to get to America but when the quota was full they went to the closest place they could.
They thought their sojourn in Cuba would be brief but as the months turned into years, Bertha made a trip back to the Old Country where she met Victor Ashman in Latvia.
They married and returned to live in Cuba in 1931. Over the years, they became Cubans in the way that immigrants to the United States become Americans no matter their background.
Victor even decided to run for public office. Because his name was not Cuban enough he officially changed it to Victor A. Larriga, in honor of his birthplace, Riga, Latvia.
One of the ways that Bertha adapted to her new country was through cooking.
Flan is made throughout the Spanish-speaking world but is especially popular in Cuba where it is the most common dessert. Flan is a source of family pride with each family believing that its flan is the best. (This sounds very familiar to me coming from a Southern Italian background where the same belief attaches to tomato sauce).
Flan recipes are passed down from generation to generation and fall into two general categories, those that contain canned milk and those that do not. Cubans smile approvingly when hearing that flan contains canned milk. After all, that’s how it should be!
Bertha’s flan is made entirely from canned milk; two kinds actually. That, and the generous amount of egg, makes a substantial flan.
After the Cuban Revolution Bertha and Victor took advantage of President Eisenhower’s offer for Cubans to immigrate to the United States. They arrived in late 1960 along with their son, Stuart.
Stuart is now the Executive Director of the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. It was at a CCA event earlier this summer that I tasted this remarkable flan made by Stuart’s wife Peggy Gaustad. Peggy is now the flan maker in the family, having taken over from Stuart. For the CCA event, Peggy made flan for 100 people but she recalls once making it for 150!
Stuart remembers that as a child, when his mother would make flan, he would be given the empty can of condensed milk and a chopped up banana to sop up the last bit of sweetness!
This recipe is actually double Bertha’s original. It’s the way Peggy makes it because there never seems to be enough from the original.
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